Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 164

The meeting of the Russia-NATO council in Brussels comes amid signs that Moscow may be willing to resume negotiations with the United States over possible joint measures to address the Y2K computer problem. Last fall Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton reached an agreement which appeared to set the two countries on the path to the establishment of a “shared early-warning center”–one which would help preclude any accidental launch of nuclear missiles owing to Y2K problems in nuclear command and control systems. Preliminary talks called for the dispatch late this year of a Russian team of experts to a center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and an American team to a Russian center near Moscow. That initiative, however, like other military-to-military cooperation efforts, fell victim to the war in the Balkans, and Russian military planners have by all accounts been reluctant to take it up again in the war’s aftermath.

But that view may be changing. U.S. government officials told reporters on September 1 that Moscow had agreed to resume talks on the joint early warning center during a visit to Moscow by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen. A spokesman for a Senate panel on the year 2000 technology bug said that the Cohen visit was expected “to yield an agreement which will bring the Russians back into the fold” on the center, which is already being set up in Colorado. A U.S. Air Force spokesman, however, sounded less certain, saying that September 13 was being seen as “decision day” on whether Moscow would participate in the project. Meanwhile, a Clinton administration expert on the Y2K problem suggested that Russia’s economic woes had hampered its efforts to deal with the computer bug, and that U.S. experts believe the Russians are “going to have more difficulties” than the Chinese (Reuters, September 2).

On September 6 the Russian Defense Ministry finally announced that it is indeed ready to resume talks with the United States on the early missile warning centers. But defense chief Marshal Igor Sergeev appeared to indicate that cooperation was still far from certain in telling reporters that the fate of the early warning centers would “depend on the outcome” of his talks with Cohen. He also intimated that the Russian decision would be influenced by Russian-American discussions on a variety of other international security issues, including the situation in Kosovo (Russian agencies, September 6).

In a related development, meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was due to arrive in Moscow today for talks of his own with Russian officials. The discussions are expected to center on arms control, including a possible START III treaty and U.S. efforts to amend the 1972 ABM accord (Russian agencies, September 7). A first round of Russian-American consultations on these issues ended badly. A terse statement issued at the close of the talks suggested that no progress had been made. One top Russian negotiator said that Moscow saw no variant which would permit the United States to deploy a national missile defense system while maintaining the ABM treaty. Another warned that Washington’s efforts to “alter” the ABM treaty would “destroy the entire process” of nuclear arms control (see the Monitor, August 23). There has been speculation that Talbott is trying to broker a deal under which the U.S. would gain the right to modify the ABM treaty in exchange for a START III agreement crafted to satisfy Moscow (New York Times, September 5).